The 31-year-old comes into this year’s Boston Marathon riding a wave of momentum after scratching from last year’s race.
After experiencing an extended patch of turbulence following her 11th place finish in the 10,000m at 2012 Olympic Games, Amy Cragg is happy to be riding smooth air again.
Cragg, formerly Amy Hastings, will make her Boston Marathon debut on Monday. The Brooks-sponsored athlete, who married Irish Olympian Alistair Cragg last fall, scratched a couple weeks before the 2014 race, saying that her training wasn’t where it needed to be in order to be competitive. That disappointing decision followed a rough go at the 2013 New York City Marathon just five months before, where she gutted out a 2:42:50 finish—well off the 2:27:03 personal best she set in her debut at the 2011 L.A. Marathon.
But Cragg, who lives in nearby Providence and is coached by Ray Treacy, the Providence College cross country and track coach who also mentors New Zealand Olympian Kim Smith and American 5,000m record holder Molly Huddle, has bounced back in a big way over the past 12 months. She got started at the Peachtree Road Race in July, running 32:16 to capture the national 10K title, and followed that up by matching her marathon personal best with a fifth-place finish at the Chicago Marathon in October.
“This is my second race in a four-part plan,” Cragg says of Monday’s Boston Marathon. “Chicago was to get back on track. The next three races—Boston, the Olympic Trials and hopefully the Olympic Games—the goal is to improve a little bit in each race. If I can do that, I think I can make an Olympic team and be really competitive on the international level at the Olympics. If I improve, even if it’s not necessarily a faster time or better place, but I know it’s my best race so far, I’ll be really happy.”
Coming into Boston, Cragg’s 2014 momentum continues to pick up steam. The 31-year-old Arizona State graduate kicked off her year with a 1:12:04 win at the P.F. Changs Rock ’n’ Roll Arizona Half Marathon in January, and then added another national title to her impressive resume last month at the Gate River 15K in Jacksonville, topping U.S. cross-country champion Laura Thweatt by 32 seconds.
“Her Boston buildup has gone smoothly because she’s been able to preempt any hiccups,” her husband says. “She’s a totally different athlete than she was a year ago.”
Since returning to Providence in March from a spring training stint in Arizona, Cragg has made six or seven trips to the Boston area to preview various sections of the course, familiarizing herself with every undulation, turn and landmark along the iconic point-to-point layout.
“The first time you race a course it’s kind of nerve-racking,” Cragg admits. “But I’ve been able to come train on it and hopefully know the course well enough where I’ll be more worried about my competitors than the course itself. I feel like I know it really well.”
On recent weekends, she shared the roads with area running clubs and charity teams who were out doing their own recon work, exchanging high fives and fist bumps while feeding off the energy of a marathon-crazed community.
“The Boston Marathon is huge wherever you are in the United States,” Cragg says. “But in New England, it’s just a different feel. Months out people start getting excited for Boston. It is the race here.”
On Monday, Cragg will line up against a loaded elite field consisting of 12 women with personal bests faster than her own, including Marblehead, Mass., native Shalane Flanagan, who finished fourth and seventh at Boston the past two years, and Desiree Linden, Cragg’s college teammate who nearly pulled off the win on Boylston Street in 2011 and finished 10th here last year. Former champions Sharon Cherop and Caroline Kilel are also in the field, along with last year’s top returning finisher Buzunesh Deba of Ethiopia. It’s the type of place-over-pace situation Cragg relishes being in as an aggressive competitor who has a penchant for being at her best in championship-style races.
“If I can be there at the end I think it’s anyone’s race, but I definitely wouldn’t discount myself in that situation,” Cragg says. “I would absolutely just go for it.”